"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills" reads Psalm 121 of the Book of Psalms. From earliest times, mountains have had a great attraction for humanity.
Thanks to his experiences with the fascinating Mont Ventoux range, Petrarch was able to step out of the Dark Ages and ring in the Renaissance. For whatever reason, Cezanne was so touched by Montagne Saint Victoire that, out of emotional admiration for its mysteriousness and out of the necessity to define being a mountain as his response to the Impressionism in which he took part, even though it was unable to persuade him entirely.
Some poems by Rilke, who was himself a great admirer of Cezanne and his Montagne Saint Victoire, are also dedicated to mountains. He wrote about their "darkness" and "infinity," or was he perhaps thinking of Caspar David Friedrich's interest in the omnipotence of nature, with its magnificent panoramas, which lend the finite the appearance of infinity?
For Per Kirkeby, too, nature is the ultimate source of inspiration. Although he sometimes finds its truth in the interiors of mountains, with their grottos and caves, the emphasis lies on the pictorial, whereby color determines form. A similar interest in nature and the pictorial is found very early on in Herbert Brandl's oeuvre.
I still vividly recall my first visit, together with Peter Pakesch from Vienna, to Brandl's studio, just outside Graz, in the early 1980s. At the time, Brandl's fascination with painting was already evident, as a way of probing and palpating new possibilities for pictorial qualities based on his visual experiences and the surrounding landscape. At the time, too, his work revealed a vital approach and a feeling of freedom, out of humility and of a expressed wish to find the middle road between the perception of natural phenomena - clouds, blue skies, uneven patches of earth, rain, and wind-on the one hand, and their conversion into abstract realities, on the other hand. I can still see his studio on the flank of a mountain as well as Brandl himself, who was then exhibitioning all his works outside his studio in a sunny landscape. In comparison to his recent works shown in the Austrian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, they had, it seems to me, a more strenuous, more material character, and the paint was applied with more of a crust and more impasto. They also featured smaller formats than his current works. The latter are much more involved in a dialogue with the space of the museum, which they also dominate far more.
Indeed, they are impressive for their format but above all for the generosity of their painterly gestures, while fully respecting and preserving the demands of the picture plane, so that the perspectival qualities of the mountains can be traced back to a frontal, two-dimensional body, like a cello in an orchestra. They are far more thought-out conceptually. They are variations on Brandl's perceptions in high mountains, with their threatening, sometimes snow-covered peaks, valleys, and bleak, remote lakes. For, though Herbert Brandl starts with photographic documentation, he also leaves behind the impression that they are confrontations with specific experiences.
Viewers too feel entirely taken up by the broad brushstrokes and delicate layers in the tonalities of the mixed paints, only to look up to the moment when their eyes reach the sky and the cloud cover or penetrate to the center of the majestic revelation of a landscape adventure that waits to be discovered. Even if we all know what mountains are and how mountains seduce you, yet Brandl understands that it is about art and that the work of art always adds something to our knowledge of things and of the world. With his work he has to be able to persuade us viewers of the necessity to call painting into question again and thereby to raise the viewing of the painting to a new dimension. He has succeeded in doing so to such an extent that we as viewers are not forced to Re-cognition" but rather to pausing silence, wonder, and ecstasy.
BrandI's work is not about painting mountains for the sake of painting, as metaphors for the identification with painting and the physicality of painting. Herbert Brandl reinforces rather the metaphor by means of his figurative content in combination with his overwhelmingly monochromatic abstractions or, in other words, by fusing nature and artist into a convincingly mysterious whole, which is sometimes transformed, with the aid of a camera or other technical intervention, into a surprising and expressive pictoriality. 80th in its monumental width and height as well, each painting is an invitation to reflect on mountains and the essence of being a mountain that can be experienced aesthetically and physical, through painting and its significance as a mirror rather than a window.
Jan Hoet, Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Köln, Katalog, p-14-15